Professional engineers play a significant role in a properly functioning society. They design products, processes and systems that enhance the quality of life, health, safety and well-being of the public, and protect the environment for future generations. Such specialized and technical work requires continuous effort and support to maintain the highest standards and ethical conduct.
It is the responsibility of non-profit organizations like Engineers Canada to work with the different levels of government, practitioners and other stakeholders to show leadership, provide expert advice and share best practices to ensure Canadians have safe, reliable, well-planned and well-maintained infrastructure.
Established in 1936, Engineers Canada is the national organization of the 12 provincial and territorial engineering associations that regulate the profession in Canada. It delivers national programs which ensure the highest standards of engineering education, professional qualifications and ethical conduct. Engineers Canada acts as the voice of its constituent associations in national and international affairs, and promotes greater understanding of the nature, role and contribution of engineering to society.
Engineers Canada has national position statements on key issues of public interest, including infrastructure, labour mobility and regulating the profession. Its core national and international work includes accrediting undergraduate engineering programs; developing professional practice and qualifications guidelines related to the public interest and facilitating international and interprovincial labour mobility.
“Engineers Canada is a world leader in establishing the highest standards of engineering excellence,” said Engineers Canada Chief Executive Officer Kim Allen, FEC, P.Eng., FCAE, MBA in a recent interview with The Canadian Business Journal. “Over the course of our history, we’ve been instrumental in setting world standards for engineering practices and education. From being a founder of the Washington Accord, to bringing our pioneering climate resilience engineering protocol to other countries, we’re frequently approached by other jurisdictions around the world for advice and mentorship. And while we help others build their own capabilities, we’re also strengthening the Canadian engineering profession, making sure that it’s a world leader.”
Establishing World Standards in Accredited Engineering Education
Since it was established, Engineers Canada (previously the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers) has been developing high standards of accreditation. In 1989, Engineers Canada, along with five other countries, was a founding signatory of the Washington Accord. The Washington Accord is an agreement between organizations that are responsible for accrediting professional engineering degree programs in each of the signatory countries. It recognizes the substantial equivalency of programs accredited by those organizations. It recommends that graduates of accredited programs in any of the signatory countries be recognized by the other countries as having met the academic requirements to practice engineering. “And (the Washington Accord) has now become the defacto standard for engineering education or professional practice. So it’s that constant maintaining, allowing it to grow, adjusting, looking at those best practices around the world,” explains Allen.
“Part of our job is to look around the world and see if standards are higher someplace else and whether those standards are required. If they are, we look to build them into our model,” he adds. “Our belief is that Canadians should be as well-protected by our engineers as any place on earth.”
In addition to establishing international education standards, one of Engineers Canada’s core functions is to accredit undergraduate engineering programs at Canadian higher educational institutions. Similar to the Washington Accord on a national scale, the Accreditation Board is a body comprising senior engineers who ensure Canadian engineering students meet the high academic qualifications necessary to begin the process of licensure and assesses the equivalency of the academic accreditation systems and programs used in countries similar to Canada.
“It’s essentially a peer-review process with some of the brightest minds in the field setting and assessing national standards,” Allen says. “It’s a never-ending, continuous cycle of improvement. Our Accreditation Board is always attempting to set the bar higher, and to reach further, making sure that we’re on the top of our game and that Canadian engineering students are getting the best education in the world.”
Another of Engineers Canada’s role is to monitor the availability of engineering resources and has collected national data on enrolment and degrees awarded since the 1970s. It publishes this information annually in Canadian Engineers for Tomorrow: Trends in Engineering Enrolment and Degrees Awarded which contains data collected from universities on accredited engineering programs across Canada, as well as analysis and interpretation of this data.
A Sustainable Profession is a Diverse Profession
“Engineers Canada’s goal is to have the profession represent the demographics of Canada,” Allen says. To achieve this, it is currently working on a number of outreach projects to ensure that women make up a greater percentage of the population of engineers. In fact, Engineers Canada reports that less than 12% of practicing licensed engineers are women. It is collaborating with the provincial and territorial regulators to raise the percentage of newly licensed women engineers to 30% by 2030. Achieving this goal is essential to keep the profession sustainable and innovate for the safety and well-being of society, Allen says. But Engineers Canada can’t do it alone. It has reached out to likeminded stakeholders and organizations to collaborate on this goal, whether it is in academic programs, places of employment or other areas. It plans also to recognize organizations that make significant progress in this area.
A Strong Foundation of Science, Creativity and Innovation
The federal government’s 2016 budget commits billions for a mix of infrastructure projects in the upcoming years, including projects to help Canada transition to a low-carbon economy. Allen says Engineers Canada is pleased to see the government committing to building resilient and sustainable infrastructure, improving water distribution and treatment and investing in First Nations communities.
To help integrate climate resilience into national building codes, Engineers Canada will use its Public Infrastructure Engineering Vulnerability Committee (PIEVC) Protocol as a resource to provide the science base to inform decision-making and protect the health and well-being of Canadians. The PIEVC Protocol is a robust, structured and documented process for engineers, planners and decision-makers to identify and recommend measures to address the vulnerabilities and risks from climate change on infrastructure. The Protocol assessment helps infrastructure owners and managers justify design, operations and maintenance recommendations to assure their project’s life cycle through improved resilience to extreme weather events and our changing climate. The PIEVC Protocol has been applied more than 40 times in Canada and globally.
“This budget represents an investment in a vision of Canada that is built on a strong foundation of science, creativity, and innovation,” Allen says. “Canada’s 280,000 professional engineers are ready and willing to help achieve these ambitious goals.”